"When everyone has won, everyone has lost", interview with Luc Rouban, research director at the CNRS

“When everyone has won, everyone has lost”, interview with Luc Rouban, research director at the CNRS

Director of research at the CNRS, Luc Rouban is an expert on French political life. He gives us his take on the results of the second round of the legislative elections and the political future of the country.

Should we conclude from the results of July 7 that the National Rally still frightens?

We must be wary of interpretations. The RN did not get the results it expected in the second round thanks to an effective republican front. With the withdrawals, there were many duels, while the three-way races would have been favorable to the National Rally. This does not mean that its ideological strength has weakened. In many constituencies, the RN candidate was defeated but still gathered more than 40% of the votes.

Within the RN, some people speak of a “democratic hold-up” in reference to the electoral agreements that led to the defeat of many of the party’s candidates. What do you think of this interpretation?

This decline of the RN is simply linked to the principle of the two-round vote. The party found itself trapped by the strategy of the Republican front, but it nevertheless won about fifty seats. It remains a victory, even if it is not as many as the party had hoped. That is what is strange with this election: everyone can claim victory. But if everyone won, everyone lost.

La France Insoumise maintains its predominance within the union of the left. How can this be explained?

In fact, it is the socialist candidates who have made a lot of progress. The number of LFI deputies is stable. Within this heterogeneous alliance, the balance of power has therefore evolved and reproduces what had already been observed in the European elections: there is a demand for social democracy in a fraction of the electorate and the Insoumis are being challenged in their own camp.

The Republicans have held up well. Is Eric Ciotti’s strategy a failure?

The RN missed its shot and did not completely succeed in capturing its voters despite the alliance with Éric Ciotti because the LR party still benefits from a significant local base. That said, the extreme right is today much more powerful than the traditional right. And if we add the deputies of these two parties to those from the presidential majority, the result gives a National Assembly on the right.

Under these conditions, is the country at risk of becoming ungovernable?

A coalition will have to emerge. In the absence of a clear majority, it will have to be based on compromises and renunciations because the deputies will have to vote on laws. With such a divided National Assembly, it is easy to form a majority when you want to oppose a reform. We risk finding ourselves in an Italian situation like during the government of economist Mario Draghi, which led to the election of Giorgia Meloni in 2022. This is probably the scenario preferred by the RN, because a lame and powerless coalition would fuel its discourse in view of the 2027 presidential election.

The Fifth Republic has mainly known bipartisanship. How can we reinvent it to adapt it to this situation?

Cohabitations have proven that our Constitution is a very flexible political model. We are going to switch to a practice that is certainly unknown, but, theoretically, our regime can overcome this instability. The concrete will very quickly become necessary since the State budget will have to be adopted in the autumn, even though France is in a delicate financial situation.

From the PS to the LR, the central arc has resisted better than expected. Did Emmanuel Macron partially achieve his goals by dissolving the National Assembly?

I believe, on the contrary, that he has lost control of the situation. The initiative will come from the political parties and he will be constrained in his choices, because until a potential new dissolution in a year, he will not be able to do much. And contrary to his ambition, his decision has not clarified anything at all.

The French have not voted in such large numbers since 1997. Does this reflect a new democratic spirit?

Voters have shown their appetite for politics, but the situation is making many people unhappy. While citizens are demanding concrete changes, it is the great return of machine games and old-fashioned politics. RN voters consider themselves victims of political maneuvering and, on the left, the electorate risks being disappointed because there is little chance that its program will be implemented.

For many years, you have been monitoring the growing distrust of the public towards the political class*. Can this unprecedented episode still help to bridge the gap between citizens and their leaders?

I think that these results are unfortunately likely to increase it, in reality. The machine games that we are going to witness represent everything that our fellow citizens hate. It is likely that some politicians will start to nourish a governmental ambition that they had not shown until now. We are even already seeing presidential appetites being displayed, as is the case with Édouard Philippe. The French can conclude that their problems are not resolved and that everyone is already thinking about the next election. This wait-and-see attitude is unlikely to please them.

* Luc Rouban is participating in the benchmark survey “Barometer of political confidence”, conducted for eleven years by the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po (Cevipof).

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